The Riviera di Levante (Liguria’s eastern riviera) is known worldwide for its heroic vineyards and unusual wines like the Sciacchetrà. Among the many towns that dot this stretch of coast we find Bonassola, just west of Cinque Terre: this is where Davide Zoppi produces wine.

Whereas many other young locals avoid getting involved with the challenging winemaking business in this part of Liguria, Davide goes countertrend. Not only did he get the organic certification, he is also committed to the recovery of ancient vine varieties. He is part of the network of selected local partners with which BeautifuLiguria collaborates.

We aim to make tourism sustainable in the Cinque Terre area, supporting high-quality producers to preserve the local and promoting destinations off the beaten path, like Bonassola.

We interviewed Davide to learn more about his efforts.

Davide Zoppi winemaker Cinque Terre

Tell us about your project for the recovery of the territory. What’s the history of the Ruzzese vine variety?

We started working on the Ruzzese vineyard recovery project about 4 years ago, together with the National Research Council in Turin and the Government of Liguria. The objective is to recover this ancient vine variety of the Cinque Terre area, called Ruzzese. One of the most important notes on its history dates back to 1560, when Pope Paul III Farnese used to dip dry figs in the “amabile ruzzese”, according to the writings of his cellarman, Sante Lancerio.

So, at that time, the pope in Rome enjoyed two products that came from our territory: the passito wine made with Ruzzese grapes and the figs from Bonassola and Framura.

Unfortunately, the Ruzzese vineyards were destroyed by the phylloxera epidemic between 1907 and 1912. It is said that Genoa’s Marquise of Villa Durazzo tried to help the distressed Cinque Terre farmers by giving them vine shoots that she had collected in her vineyards in the wooded Val Polcevera.

The farmers planted the donated vine variety and realized that it was very vigorous, and that thanks to its thick skin it was ideal for drying, just like they had done for centuries with the Ruzzese. This is how the Bosco grape variety was born in the Cinque Terre along with its famous Sciacchetrà wine, which is therefore the descendant of the Ruzzese.

How are you making the Ruzzese come back to life?

After its destruction in the early 1900s, the Ruzzese vine variety got lost in history and was not cultivated until about 15 years ago, when professors Mannini and Schneider from the National Research Council in Turin, decided to research ancient wine varietals. In the province of La Spezia, where Cinque Terre and Bonassola are located, they did a “vigneto collezione” (grape collection field) in an area owned by Regione Liguria.

Nobody considered this vineyard for 10 years, until about 4 years ago, when I requested to collect the scion wood and to investigate the multiplication. From there, 77 small plants of Ruzzese were born.

Throughout the years, I have involved other nurseries from Tuscany and Piedmont in the cultivation of the vine variety, and after 4 years of work we now have a collection of 1500 shoots of Ruzzese, which is a very interesting number!

What are the biggest challenges that you have encountered with this project? And when will we be able to taste the Ruzzese?

One of the difficult things to deal with was the multiplication material, because with such a small grape collection field we could only multiply a small amount of vine shoots. Another issue has to do with legislation, because after all this work of historical and identity recovery, a protection legislation is necessary.

Therefore, my objective is to try to create a network of Ruzzese producers, so that we then have the possibility to insert this wine varietal in a D.O.P. or I. G.P. disciplinary code of production.

Presumably the Ruzzese will be ready for tasting in 3 or 4 years: I need to have enough mass for separate winemaking and to obtain the first oenological results.

Bonassola Cinque Terre Wine

What are the questions or observations that visitors make most frequently when visiting your winery and during wine tastings?

We get a lot of specific and technical questions regarding cultivation, history and even geology. But most of all, visitors are fascinated by the truly unique setting created by the interaction of nature and man. Not only because of the vineyards, but also thanks to the 300.000 bees that we have inserted in this microcosm with grapes, blackberries, raspberries and the Mediterranean maquis.

Tell us about your approach to organic farming.

Obviously we do not use any pesticides or herbicides, I believe this should be the bare minimum for anyone in 2019. In addition, we do the grassing, green manure and fertilization with horse manure every 3 years per lot. Last year we inserted an apiary with 300.000 bees, and our vineyards also host ladybugs and butterflies. Thanks to this mix, the organic cultivation produces a wine that is decidedly fuller and more vivid, something that you can perceive when you drink it.

Who seem to be the greatest international appreciators of organic wine “made in Cinque Terre-Bonassola”?

Surely the whole of northern Europe, and also a very interesting share of American visitors who are really, really prepared and enjoy our wines very much.

Maintaining the ancient stone walls of the terraced vineyards is difficult and expensive, many elderly winemakers are abandoning their work and it is not easy to find enterprising young people like yourself. In your opinion, what are the most important steps that organizations should do to help this territory?

We must remember that this is a territory that is protected internationally – it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and as such it should be supported a lot more by bodies and institutions. I think of wine districts in France and Switzerland, where winemakers are a “Presidio”, subsidized to stay in their land and to continue cultivating it.

It would be useful to implement measures of this kind, financing the existing agricultural activity and its maintenance, because for example the costs in a heroic vineyard are 10 times higher than the ones in a normal flat surface. In addition to preserving the history and beauty of the area, a subsidization is crucial also from a hydrological point of view, because we can prevent landslides by maintinaing the “muretti” (stone walls).

Another important step would be to achieve a land reunification wherever there are fields that have remained uncultivated for years. Something along these lines is already available in our civil code – but it should be made more explicit and be regulated in agreement with the municipalities, so that abandoned terrains can be mapped, and their management can be allocated to local farmers.

Any news or future projects that you would like to share?

Going back to some of my initial answers, I am pleased to say that – through the Condotta Slow Food di La Spezia – I was asked to reunite the viticulturists who are interested in the Ruzzese, so to found the community that will be in charge of recovering this ancient vine variety that deserves to be rediscovered.

At the winery our projects revolve around maintaining the great quality standard and elegance of the wines, while promoting increasingly the territory of Bonassola – Cinque Terre under a sustainability and rural perspective. After all this is what our visitors really like: they really appreciate the moments where they can interact with the territory and get to know the locals, taking home an idea of beauty that they will carry in their hearts forever.

Thank you Davide!

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